Pakistani scholars question PM Khan’s plans to reform madrassas

In this file photo, Islamic religious students take mid-term exams at Jamia Binoria, a seminary in Karachi, on Jan. 26, 2017. (AFP)
Updated 13 October 2018

Pakistani scholars question PM Khan’s plans to reform madrassas

  • Previous governments unsuccessful in mainstreaming seminaries despite detailed plans
  • Move to ensure religious schools are on par with those providing modern education

KARACHI: Upset over the previous governments’ lackadaisical attitude, Pakistan’s religious scholars said that while Prime Minister Imran Khan shows promise in making religious schools a part of the mainstream educational framework, it’s unlikely his plans will be brought to fruition.
Khan has repeatedly called for reforms in the education system to bring the seminaries, also known as madrassas, in line with the modern education system. 
Last week, during a meeting with the delegation of the Ittehad-e-Tanzeemat-e-Madaris-e-Deeniya Pakistan, an alliance of religious schools in the country, Khan had said that uniformity in the basic educational system was imperative to work toward nation building. The delegation was headed by Mufti Muneeb-ur-Rehman and comprised heads of all madrassa boards, while the premier was accompanied by federal ministers of education, religious affairs and a coterie of other officials. 
Yaseen Zafar, head of the Wafaqul Madaris Al Salfia — the board of religious seminaries representing the Salafi school of thought — told Arab News that Khan’s government and past leaders, including former Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif, Benazir Bhutto “were also sincere in their efforts to mainstream the seminaries,” adding that the madrassas never opposed the plans either.
“It’s the bureaucracy, which hampers the process by raising objections to the key demand of registration of the board,” Zafar said, adding that he feared Khan’s plans would meet a similar fate. 
Aamir Tauseen, former chairman of the Pakistan Madrassa Education Board, agrees that when it comes to meeting the demands of clerics, specifically granting them the status of official education boards, the bureaucracy has always raised various objections, treating religious schools as unequal or as a hotbed for terrorism. “Since they are educated through the modern system, they have a specific mentality and consider the religious schools backward,” he said.
Taking cognizance of the issues discussed, Khan said: “It was unjust to ignore the contributions of madaris (seminaries) and associate them with terrorism.”
Maulana Hanif Jalandhari, chief of Wafaqul Madaris Al-Arabia Pakistan (the board of Arabic religious seminaries of Pakistan), said that in the meeting with the prime minister, it was decided that all measures agreed upon with the previous governments would be implemented.
He added that Khan had formed a committee comprising ministers of education and religious affairs which, “after consultation with the madrassa leadership would draft the recommendations”.
Detailing the limitations of including the seminaries in the mainstream educational framework, Jalandhari said: “To us, the madaris are already mainstreamed as they’re imparting Islamic education in a country, which was carved out of (pre-partition) India for implementation of Islamic teachings. For the government, however, the mainstreaming is that graduates of madrassas should be able to work in other fields of life. For this, the madrassas will have to start teaching English language, science, mathematics and social studies. In return, the government will have to recognize our degrees.” 
One solution to the problem could be if “the basic education in schools and madrassas is the same till grade 10,” he said, adding that: “The religious seminaries should teach modern subjects whereas modern schools should incorporate religious subject in their syllabus.”
Tauseen said the timeline of efforts for mainstreaming madrassas dates backs to the 1970s when an educational commission headed by Air Marshal Noor Khan recommended introducing modern subjects in religious seminaries.
In 1974, after the recommendations failed to see the light of day, all five boards were accredited by the University Grant Commission of Pakistan, which accepted the highest madrasa degree of “Shahadat Aalia” as equal to a Master of Arts (MA), Tauseen said.
“Almost every government formed a commission in this regard but in vain. In 1999, Mahmood Ahmed Ghazi recommended the establishment of a Pakistan Madrassa Education Board, which was setup in 2001. This board was aimed at mainstreaming the madrassas but all five boards rejected the proposal,” he said. 
Tauseen, who took charge of the board in August 2014, said that it remained dysfunctional for 11 years primarily due to the “adverse attitude of the Religious Affairs Ministry”.
Inclusion of the madrassas in the mainstream became a part of the National Action Plan, which was formulated in the aftermath of the December 2014 attack on the Peshawar Army Public School. “Several meetings of different committees, education ministry, National Anti-Terrorism Authority and Interior Ministry were held and I, being head of the Pakistan Madrasa Board, was part of all of them. Several recommendations were prepared; however, with a change of government none were implemented,” he said.
Citing a lack of coordination and understanding as the main reasons for the delay in the implementation of plans, Tauseen suggested that madrassas should first have the complete data on hand, which should be shared with the government, as the first step toward mainstreaming. This could be followed up with the introduction of a uniform syllabus in the second phase.
There are three types of seminaries: Maktabs (schools for day scholars), madrassas (seminaries with boarding and lodging) and darul uloom (seminaries for higher studies). Together, they are responsible for more than 37,000 institutions, with nearly 4 million students acquiring education from them.
Jalandhari said that around 30,000 madrassas are registered with the five boards representing various schools of thought in Islam. Abdul Kabir Qazi, home secretary of the Sindh province, said there are a total of 10,033 madrassas in Sindh out of which 7,724 are operational while 2,309 were shut down after the geo-tagging exercise. “We have registered all the seminaries in Sindh province,” Qazi told Arab News. “All the madrassas in the province have been geo-tagged,” he added.
Wakeel Ahmed Khan, former secretary of religious affairs, refutes the allegations and instead blames the ‘inconsistency of policies’ of the succeeding governments for hampering the development of the madrassas.
“For mainstreaming madrassas, modern disciplines should be taught and religious education should be an additional focus,” the former secretary told Arab News. 
Drawing a comparison with the religious seminaries in the UK, he said: “They are accredited with the UK education boards on their terms and simultaneously to their branches in Pakistan… they have accepted this mainstreaming happily.”


Anger over EU’s ‘historic mistake’ on Skopje, Tirana

Updated 19 min 27 sec ago

Anger over EU’s ‘historic mistake’ on Skopje, Tirana

  • A handful of countries led by French President Emmanuel Macron again blocked membership talks for North Macedonia and Albania
  • EU Council President Donald Tusk told reporters he felt ‘really embarrassed’ but urged the two countries not to lose heart

BRUSSELS: The EU has made a “historic mistake” that risks destabilising the Balkans, senior officials warned Friday, after a handful of countries led by French President Emmanuel Macron again blocked membership talks for North Macedonia and Albania.
There was widespread frustration and disappointment, particularly among eastern European countries keen to broaden the EU club, at the failure of the 28 leaders to agree to start formal accession negotiations with Skopje and Tirana.
Leaders were deadlocked after some seven hours of heated backroom wrangling at a Brussels summit, with France alone in rejecting North Macedonia but joined by Denmark and the Netherlands in refusing Albania.
“It’s a major historic mistake and I hope it will only be temporary and won’t become engraved in the collective memory as a historic mistake,” European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said.
Johannes Hahn, the European commissioner who has led efforts to push the two countries to reform to fit EU norms, said it had left the bloc’s credibility damaged “not only in the Western Balkans but beyond.”
“This is a matter of extreme disappointment,” he tweeted.
“To refuse acknowledgement of proven progress will have negative consequences, including the risk of destabilization of the Western Balkans, with full impact on the EU.”
North Macedonian President Stevo Pendarovski urged his people to push on with reform despite the disappointment, while his Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov urged the EU to come clean about its true intentions.
“If there is no more consensus on the European future of the Western Balkans... the citizens deserve to know,” he tweeted.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said EU leaders would look again at the matter before a summit with Western Balkans leaders in Zagreb early next year.
The summit deadlock came days after EU ministers hit a similar impasse at talks in Luxembourg — following two earlier delays by EU countries on making a decision.
Apart from France, all the other EU states accept that North Macedonia has made enough progress on reforms — including changing its name from Macedonia to appease Greece — to start talks.
But Albania has less support, with the Netherlands and Denmark joining France in voicing serious reservations about its efforts against corruption and organized crime.
Austrian Chancellor Brigitte Bierlein said the summit failure was “extremely regrettable.”
“I have spoken to the two prime ministers to express my great disappointment, and they are also extremely disappointed,” she told reporters in Brussels.
“This is not a good sign for the solidarity of the EU or the stability of the region.”
EU Council President Donald Tusk told reporters he felt “really embarrassed” but urged the two countries not to lose heart, saying he had “absolutely no doubt” they would one day join the bloc.
“Both countries, they passed their exams, I can’t say this about our member states,” Tusk said.
The European Commission has said both countries have done enough to at least begin talks, but Macron now says this should not happen until the whole accession process has been reformed, arguing that it does not work properly.
But diplomats suspect the French are playing tough for domestic political reasons linked to immigration, and there is frustration that Macron appears to be trying to move the goalposts.
“These countries deserve it, they fulfil the criteria, the momentum is right,” said one diplomatic source.
“It’s not fair to change the rules of the game in the middle of the game.”
Another said “there’s no logic to it. It’s incoherent — an excuse.”
After the earlier failure in Luxembourg another diplomat accused France of “repeating the same stupid arguments again and again,” warning Paris would bear “responsibility for the consequences of this.”
Politicians in North Macedonia and Albania have warned that their people’s patience with the EU is not unlimited and repeated rejections risk emboldening nationalist and pro-Russian forces.